Lisa Sharon Harper 09-15-2015

Image via /Shutterstock

In 1851, attendees of a feminist convention gathered in a packed hall in Akron, Ohio. It was a time when — even in the midst of a fight for women’s rights — mostly men spoke. They talked of dainty women — delicate and deserving of special protection.

Sojourner Truth sat in their midst. Miss Truth sat quiet, listening to men fill space with empty arguments about why women should or should not have the vote. Finally, she rose to speak and a visceral wall of hostility rose from the masses to greet her. The voice of this "n___ger woman" could muddy the message, they hissed. It could conflate the movement for women’s equality with the abolitionist movement — and that would be the death of suffrage, they feared.

But, as Dr. King liked to quote, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.”

the Web Editors 09-04-2015

1. Can the Evangelical Left Rise Again?

“The Evangelical left, once a substantial contingent of American life, is now seemingly small and powerless compared to its rightwing counterpart.”

2. Why Every Church Needs a Drag Queen

Nadia Bolz-Weber, everyone’s favorite tattoo-sporting, grace-spouting priest, is back with a new book, Accidental Saints.

3. One Novel Way to Bring Healthcare to Poor Neighborhoods

A local neighborhood health center believes it has developed an approach that works for their clients in poverty — partnering with a local grocery story to combine the shopping and medical experience into one outing.

Stephen Mucher 08-20-2015

Image via /Shutterstock

Even in its bitter moments, Between the World and Me remains a parental love letter. As such, we are drawn to words that at once familiar and intimate, revealing the hopes and vulnerability of a father who, like me, feels such pressing need to save his child from and through his own history.

"The truth is that I owe you everything I have," Coates tells his son tenderly.

"I was grounded and domesticated by the plain fact that should I go down, I would not go down alone."

To read Coates is to consider just how dramatically different my own parenting imperative is from fathers who teach their sons resistance but who must contend with the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that such instruction will lead to bodily loss.

For those of us who grew up believing we are white, and perhaps especially for those of us raising sons all too likely to believe the same, there is at least one urgent message we should share alongside Coates: Our children need to know that they live in a nation, branded by violence, that values some bodies more than others. 

Lisa Sharon Harper 08-12-2015

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou and Dr. Cornel West climb over barriers at the ‪St. Louis Department of Justice as part of the ‪#‎UnitedWeFight‬ ‪#‎FergusonUprising‬. Photo © Heather Wilson / dustandlightphoto.com

The latest killing happened two days before the 1-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death when Christian Taylor, 19, crashed his SUV through the window of a car dealership in Arlington, Texas. Officers shot him in the course of a struggle. In fact, as I write this, there have been 601 lethal police shootings in 2015, 24 of them unarmed black men, according to an ongoing independent analysis by Washington Post: That’s an average of two unarmed black men shot dead by cops per month since January. This number does not include police shootings of black women, police killings that did not involve gunfire, or deaths while in police custody. Freddie Gray’s and Sandra Bland’s deaths are not included in the Washington Post tally.

Over the course of the year since Michael Brown died, we have learned critical lessons that have fueled the movement, bringing together young activists, clergy, and evangelicals in unlikely, yet cohesive alliance.

Lani Prunés 08-11-2015

“WHAT YOU do to children matters. And they may never forget.”

This thread runs aggressively through Toni Morrison’s most recent novel, God Help the Child. The speaker is Sweetness, a woman who shares her family’s wounds from trying to pass for white, or “high-yellow,” for generations. Of trying to blend in well enough to drink at fountains, to try on hats in stores, to use the same Bible as whites during ceremonies. When her child and the novel’s focus, Bride, is born black, “midnight black, Sudanese black ... blue-black,” all the advancement Sweetness and her ancestors strove for dies. She loses her husband (who assumes she has been unfaithful), her social standing as a light-skinned woman, and any love for her child. “Her color is a cross she will always carry,” Sweetness says. “But it’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not.”

Bride grows up without the love of a mother’s touch and scorned for being so oddly dark, until she learns to use her color to make herself exotic and marketable. What may seem to be a character living into her identity as a black woman is really a façade in order to regain what was lost because of her skin. Of course, what Bride sees as progress is actually proof that she too has fallen into Sweetness’ obsession with what Morrison described in a recent NPR interview as “skin privilege—the ranking of color in terms of its closeness to white people or white-skinned people and its devaluation according to how dark one is and the impact that has on people who are dedicated to the privileges of certain levels of skin color.” But while race and color as social constructs are themes in the book, they are not explored as deeply or given as much emphasis as childhood trauma.

As in some of Morrison’s other novels, magical realism conveys the battle between the past and the present, the spiritual and the physical, playing a poignant, visceral part in Bride’s journey. Bride goes through a literal metamorphosis, assuming it is penance for gruesome choices she made as a child to feel alive and as an adult to feel powerful. She is numbed to what true progress and success are, constantly trying to put a fragmented identity together until she can no longer get up and must face her trauma and changing body.

The only people in the novel who allow themselves to truly heal are a child named Rain and an ex-convict named Sofia. They speak to the power of self-forgiveness. Too often we carry the shame and hate handed to us by other people’s evil, whether from childhood trauma and abuse or complacency and apathy as adults. While we can and must be held accountable for our own mistakes, we must also be willing to take off the shroud of self-loathing and guilt, and move forward past trauma into self-acceptance and healing. Both Rain and Sofia, young and old, can see the power of blame and regret and refuse to walk that path, while Bride, her lover Booker, and her mother Sweetness will arguably always drag the sins of their forebears behind them.

“What you do to children matters. And they may never forget.”

JP Keenan 08-10-2015

Sunday marked the 1-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Both in Ferguson, and across the country, the memorials and marches were held to remember those lost to police violence. Here in Washington, D.C., we attended one such demonstration and asked protesters what the #BlackLivesMatter movement has meant to them over the past year.

Lisa Sharon Harper 08-10-2015

EVEN AS SOUTHERN states—and GOP candidates—jumped through hoops to distance themselves from the Confederate flag, a backlash erupted among those claiming the flag was merely a symbol of “heritage.” Battle-flag waving Southerners (and Confederacy sympathizers) seemed to leap at the opportunity to wave their banner high.

But what about the rest of us? One of the most profound statements I’ve heard recently came from Rev. Jin Kim, founding pastor of Church of All Nations in Minnesota. This Korean-born pastor stood at the podium of the Sojourners Summit and said with conviction: “I am a white supremacist.”

How can this man, a person of color who’s dedicated his life to ethnic and cultural reconciliation, be a white supremacist? The same way any of us can. After all, at its heart white supremacy is not about white hoods, battle flags, and burning crosses. Those symbols are what we call explicit bias. People know when they are practicing it.

But most often white supremacy is about implicit bias that favors whiteness. It’s about the unconscious associations we make in our minds before we even know we’ve done it. White? Rich. Black? Poor. White? Good. Black? Bad. White? Trustworthy. Black? Scary. You get the idea.

These are the unconscious biases that shape the way we order our lives; the communities we live in, the places we shop, the churches we attend, the leadership from others we accept (or reject), and the policies we support (or don’t).

It’s not hard to fume at the thought of the killer of Mother Emanuel’s Nine. And it feels good to click “like” and share posts calling for the removal of Confederate flags.

But if we stop there, bias beats us. It is the unconscious biases of the masses that keep us from moving forward, not the explicit biases of the few. So, check out this tongue-in-cheek list of four easy ways to be a white supremacist (regardless of your own race).

1. Plan a conference on church planting with a speaker lineup so white it would make Honey Boo Boo blush. And if you want to increase your “diversity,” have one speaker of color (even if he is from India), an Asian emcee, and maybe a black worship leader.

Rally after the decision not to indict Darren Wilson

Solidarity rally in Minneapolis for Michael Brown in response to the Ferguson grand jury decision, Nov. 25, 2014 by Fibonacci Blue / Flickr.com.

It's a call and response chant started on the streets of Ferguson that has spread across the nation.

"Mike Brown means ..."

"... we got to fight back!"

It rolls off my tongue in a sing-chant cadence, and my hips begin to sway, because I have yelled it as I've marched and rehearsed it in my dreams. It is bitter and sweet. We evoke Mike's name and sway and pledge to fight. I've listened to voices I know and those I don't call and answer in hours of live stream and together in front of court houses and I know, I know in my soul what Mike Brown means.

Mike Brown means ... something more. Something larger than one more young black man shot in his neighborhood.

One year later, Mike Brown means ... something more.

Bill Bradley 08-07-2015
Burning Churches

Paul Brennan / Shutterstock 

AS I RECENTLY recalled that summer of 1964, I was reminded that slavery was our original sin. Race remains our unresolved dilemma, and today the bombers are back. From an urban church in Knoxville, Tenn., to countless rural churches in South Carolina, Virginia, ... and Alabama, the flames of arson and the hatreds of racism burn again.

On the narrow subject of burning churches, there has been rare bipartisan outrage. Conservative Rep. Sen. Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina said on the Senate floor, “If we in Congress cannot agree that church burning is a despicable crime, what can we agree on? It’s not a matter of liberals, conservatives, blacks, whites; it is about justice, faith, right, wrong.” He and Sen. Ted Kennedy introduced a bill to toughen the laws against church arson.

Well-meaning whites have also stepped forward to help rebuild churches. The National Council of Churches and the Anti-Defamation League have established national rebuilding funds.

Joshunda Sanders 08-06-2015
Illustration by Jon Krause

Illustration by Jon Krause

AS WE APPROACH A PRESIDENTIAL election in which each candidate’s gender is sure to be discussed, it’s worth evaluating the automatic assumptions we—yes, all of us—make when it comes to women, men, and the meaning we attribute to gender. These assumptions include everything from outright sexism to subtler forms of gender bias, such as the knee-jerk association of men with “competence” and “gravitas,” women with “incompetence” and “emotion.”

“The battle for women to be treated like human beings with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of involvement in cultural and political arenas continues, and it is sometimes a pretty grim battle,” writes Rebecca Solnit in the title chapter of Men Explain Things to Me, a 2014 collection of essays that helped coin the term “mansplain.” “This is a struggle that takes place in war-torn nations, but also in the bedroom, the dining room, the classroom, the workplace, and the streets.”

I would add, of course, that this battle also takes place in the church, our spiritual homes. After all, for women this is a struggle that’s older than feminism, perhaps as old as our faith traditions themselves. So how, exactly, can we end the battle?

The answer, it seems, lies in understanding the difference between explicit and implicit bias, the former resulting from deliberate stereotypes, the latter a growing topic in social science that doesn’t absolve us of guilt but helps us understand how biases of all kinds have been so difficult to identify, name, and change.

Simbwala Schultz / Wisdom Publications / RNS

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel. Photo via Simbwala Schultz / Wisdom Publications / RNS

When Zenju Earthlyn Manuel goes to teach somewhere for the first time, she often sees surprise in the faces of the students as she is introduced.

She doesn’t look like many of them expect. She isn’t Asian. She isn’t a man. And she isn’t white.

And getting them to acknowledge that her body — her “manifestation,” as she calls it — is different and a part of her experience is crucial to her teaching. If our bodies are sources of suffering, then we ignore them at our peril.

“When I have held and embraced who I am, how I am embodied, it has become a source of enlightenment, of freedom,” she said from a sunny corner window seat in her living room. Draped in a black monk’s jacket, she is a stark contrast to the white walls and white upholstery of the rest of the room.

Vincent Intondi 07-29-2015

As we mark the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world waits to see if the Iran deal will come to fruition and thus avoid war. Once again, the debate about nuclear weapons appears at the forefront. At the same time, inside the U.S., the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues to make clear it will no longer be politics as usual as activists organize, protest, and fight every day to destroy institutional racism. However, it is no coincidence that these events are all happening simultaneously as they have always been and continue to be inextricably linked.

Trudy Smith 07-29-2015
Black Lives Matter protest in Washington, D.C.

Protesters march against police shootings and racism during a rally in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13, 2014, Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

In the wake of Sandra Bland’s death, I’ve seen comments from other white Christians on social media defending the arresting officer, denying that Sandra Bland was mistreated, blaming her for what happened, and denying that race had anything to do with what happened to her. Their responses were so knee-jerk automatic that I probably could have written them ahead of time before learning anything specific about the events in question. We humans can be quite tribal, and we instinctively tend to identify with the people who are most like us.

Many whites balk at the suggestion that their views and assumptions might be racist because they know themselves to be moral people who live decent lives and maybe even have some black friends. They certainly don’t hate anybody, and they aren’t supporters of the Ku Klux Klan. Because they understand racism on an individual rather than systemic level, it seems impossible to hold together an image of oneself that contains both “good person” and “racist.”

REUTERS / Hans Deryk / RNS

Photo via REUTERS / Hans Deryk / RNS

When it comes to political partisanship in the 2016 presidential race, it might be said that Southern Baptists have taken one step forward and two steps back.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced in a press release that its president Russell Moore would be interviewing Republican candidates Jeb Bush (live) and Marco Rubio (via video) before 13,000 attendees at the denomination’s missions conference on August 4. Leading candidates from each major party were invited, the release states, but only Rubio and Bush accepted.

Adam Ericksen 07-28-2015
Screenshot from arrest video

Screenshot of video via Texas Department of Public Safety

Once again we find white people blaming a black victim of violence. She’s to blame because she was “irritated.” She’s to blame because she refused to put out her cigarette. She’s to blame because she’s black.

A white response that blames Sandra Bland is a racist response. White people can get away with being irritated at police. We don’t have to be kind to officers. We can express our anger and not fear arrest.

A black person though? If a black person shows any anger, they will likely be arrested or possibly killed. And it will be construed as their fault.

The purpose of spiritual disciplines is not to earn brownie points but to restore or renew relationships. God seems most concerned to restore relationships that are most broken in society. This means that the outcry for justice from the Black Lives Matter movement provides an opportunity for the renewal of the church. The “Spiritual Practices for Confronting Racial Bias” presented by copastors Rebecca Steele and Larry Watson were these: gather in small groups that are 1) half black and half white, 2) half poor and half not poor, and 3) have a small stewardship team that redistributes tithes and offerings to those in need.

Those are indeed spiritual disciplines. And they were like the spiritual disciplines of the early church whose members not only brought tithes and offerings but they also sold possessions and brought the proceeds for redistribution among those who had financial needs (Acts 2:45). This same church, when one group (Gentiles) complained about discrimination in widows’ support, gave all the distributive power to the discriminated against (Acts 6:1-5).

LaVonne Neff 07-16-2015

I have an idea for people who value their region's heritage so much that they continue to wave what they think is the Confederate flag (even though it is actually the battle flag of Northern Virginia).

I suggest that they volunteer to be slaves. For life.

Fact: The 19th-century Southern way of life would have been impossible without enslaved people.

Fact: The one thing that could bring back that romantic bygone era would be if, once again, some 39 percent of the population were enslaved (that's the average percentage of enslaved people in the Confederate states). But this time let's recognize that no one values personal liberty as much as Southerners. And let's take their word that the Confederate flag has nothing to do with racism. Let's encourage true Confederate patriots, especially white folks who are not racists, to volunteer to work in the fields from sunrise to sunset. There will be no pay, of course, and no bothersome education; but food, lodging, and two sets of work clothes per year will be provided. And the South will rise again.

Lisa Sharon Harper 07-16-2015
book of genesis

Hand scanning the Book of Genesis. Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com

I didn’t see the film Malcolm X in theaters. I waited to see it on video. Big mistake.

I watched it in my home, just off campus from University of Southern California, late at night when everyone else was sleeping. Another big mistake.

At the time I was living in a house with one other black person and a bunch of white and Asian friends. I was attending a mostly white school and a mostly white church and had attended a mostly white institute for urban transformation that was borne out of my church. Ironically, it was there that I was required to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. But I never read the whole thing, only sections.

So, I sat in the dark living room, lit only by the television screen, and watched Denzel Washington bring Malcolm X to life … by myself. And there, in the dark, Malcolm’s words about Jesus hit me to the core.

Troy Jackson 07-14-2015
Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street gathering in 2012, gabriel12 / Shutterstock.com

In the past few years, a new era of civil rights organizing has emerged out of the depths of tragedy and despair. The list of names of young African Americans who have died at the hand of police, out-of-control vigilantes, and hate-filled white terrorists has fostered profound lament and intense anger. The simple phrase, “Black Lives Matter” has galvanized activism, mobilizing, and organizing.

This new civil rights battle includes legislative battles at state houses like South Carolina, leading to the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds. There is work to do in D.C. as well. Yet the real front of this new era will be on the corporate scene, on Wall Street and with economic power brokers and corporations. It is time to go “over the heads” of politicians and enter into dialogue and debate with corporations over the value and dignity of dark bodies, and how to reconstruct a moral economy that is not profiting off of people of color.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II., at the mass meeting in Winston-Salem. Photo by Phil Fonville.

NC NAACP vs. McCrory is a necessary interruption to the institutionalized racism that is killing black and brown people. For all the talk around “black lives matter,” Rev. Barber warns, we are in danger of only affirming that black death matters if we accept that the martyrs of Charleston deserve nothing more than the removal of a Confederate flag from their state house. Yes, the flags should come down. But if they go away while the unjust laws remain, then it may be even harder for us to see that the root of injustice is in an imbalance of power.

And the fundamental power of citizenship in this country is still the franchise.